Rep. Michele Bachmann has caught a lot of heat for her criticism of Gov. Rick Perry's forced vaccination policy in Texas. She was given a chance in last night's debate to clarify her comments on HPV vaccines, specifically that it could be a "potentially dangerous drug" because of side effects. The Minnesota Republican, on defense, replied that the major issue was Mr. Perry ceding parental rights to a drug company that made donations to his campaign.
Mrs. Bachmann shouldn't step away from her original claim about the vaccine's unintended results because she's actually right. There are serious side effects to government mandating the HPV vaccine, but they are behavioral, not medical. Teens "inoculated" against HPV are being given a false sense of security tantamount to a green light to participate in sexual activity.
Makers of the drug - along with public health agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - are pushing the vaccine as the way to "prevent most cases of cervical cancer," which are caused by HPV. However, the dangerous message that's being communicated to parents and teens is that getting this vaccine is the same as being immunized against old-world diseases like mumps and rubella. One shot prevents something contagious and highly prevalent.
Cervical cancer in particular is highly preventable through individual choices to avoid risky behaviors, like promiscuous sex. Instead of being told that getting a shot will protect from HPV and cervical cancer, parents and children should be informed that the vaccines only address two of the more than 15 types of cancer-causing HPV. And while the two they address are serious, causing roughly 70 percent of cases of cervical cancer, the vaccine is no magic bullet, particularly for the remaining 30 percent of cases that come from one of the other types of HPV.
The medical establishment wants to ignore this because it believes premarital teenage sex is inevitable. This modern tenet is behind the decision to recommend vaccinating young girls between the tender ages of nine and 12. Medical professionals are additionally worried that this vaccine will merely promote the prevalence of the other types of HPV-caused cancers, as the Food and Drug Administration noted in its approval letter to Merck & Co., a pharmaceutical firm.
The focus on vaccination conveniently distracts from the real issue at the heart of the cervical cancer epidemic. "The surest way to eliminate risk for genital HPV infection is to refrain from any genital contact with another individual," the National Cancer Institute explains. "For those who are sexually active, a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner is the strategy most likely to prevent HPV infection." Studies have shown time and again that parents most influence teenage decisions about whether to become sexually active.
Cervical cancer isn't contagious; HPV is. The way to avoid contracting the virus is remarkably cheap and simple. If young people would refrain from sexual activity until they were married, they wouldn't have to worry about cervical cancer or the virus that causes it. Unfortunately, that truth is more controversial than the behavior that spreads disease.
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